Nov 282012
 

The subject: Control of the Internet, politically and commercially.

A commercial and ideological clash is set for next week, when representatives of more than 190 governments, along with telecommunications companies and Internet groups, gather in Dubai for a once-in-a-generation meeting.

The subject: Control of the Internet, politically and commercially.

The stated purpose of the World Conference on International Telecommunications is to update a global treaty on technical standards needed to, say, connect a telephone call from Tokyo to Timbuktu. The previous conference took place in 1988, when the Internet was in its infancy and telecommunications remained a highly regulated, mostly analog-technology business.

Now the Internet is the backbone for worldwide communications and commerce. Critics of the International Telecommunication Union, the agency of the United Nations that is organizing the meeting, see a dark agenda in the meeting. The blogosphere has been raging over supposed plans led by Russia to snatch control of the Internet and hand it to the U.N. agency.

That seems unlikely. Any such move would require an international consensus, and opposition is widespread.

Terry D. Kramer, the former Vodafone executive who is the United States ambassador to the conference, has vowed to veto any change in how the Internet is overseen.

Analysts say the real business of the conference is business. “The far bigger issue — largely obscured by this discussion — are proposals that are more likely to succeed that envision changing the way we pay for Internet services,” Michael Geist, an Internet law professor at the University of Ottawa, said by e-mail.

Hamadoun Touré, secretary general of the I.T.U., has repeatedly said that the U.N. group has no desire to take over the Internet or to stifle its growth. On the contrary, he says, one of the main objectives of the conference is to spread Internet access to more of the four and a half billion people around the world who still do not use it.

And yet, groups as diverse as Google, the Internet Society, the International Trade Union Confederation and Greenpeace warn that the discussions could set a bad precedent, encouraging governments to step up censorship or take other actions that would threaten the integrity of the Internet.

“This is a very important moment in the history of the Internet, because this conference may introduce practices that are inimical to its continued growth and openness,” Vinton G. Cerf, vice president and chief Internet evangelist at Google, said in a conference call.

Google set up a Web site last week, “Take Action,” encouraging visitors to sign a petition for a “free and open Internet.” The campaign is modeled on the successful drive last winter to defeat legislative proposals to crack down on Internet piracy in the United States.

Read more . . .

via The New York Times – Eric Pfanner
 

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